So here goes:
A book I LOVE:
I adore a good memoir. For me, there is none more haunting and beautiful than Teresa Jordan’s, “Riding the White Horse Home.” I can honestly say that this book changed everything for me. I read it in college as a part of a Western American Literature class. To this day, I can’t pick it up without a lump rising in my throat. I’m not sure why. It might not appeal to everyone. It hasn’t sold millions of copies or even, for that matter, received much recognition (which I believe it deserves), but I found it life-changing. If I were only allowed one book to read over and over again for the rest of my life, this would be it.
Teresa Jordan was raised on a ranch in Southeast Wyoming. I grew up on a dairy farm in Southeast Idaho. I knew some of the same things she did: “that it’s easier to be a rancher’s daughter than a rancher’s son (pg 36), that “I feared my grandfather, but I also loved him” (pg 22) and that “I had some direct connection to both the land and the events that transpired upon it” (pg 12). What I was still navigating was the way that our family’s way of life and the land I’d grown up on had shaped me and where I was going now that I was away from it, on my own. In the book, Jordan says that “less than 2 percent of Americans live on farms and ranches.” I was startled in college as I talked to my friends: their fathers were bankers and doctors and lawyers and salesman and computer programmers. I never met another farmer’s daughter. Most of my friends viewed my way of life as charming and quaint. Teresa Jordan knows it and tells it for what it is and was. I loved her honesty of it, her perspective:
My family left the land because for four generations we had yearned to leave. We had lived in a culture that taught us that a professional life is more respectable than one tied to the land. This attitude shaped the decisions my family made, and it continues to shape the larger political and economic decisions, made by educators and policymakers far removed from the land, that affect the few who still hold on.
My sadness over the loss of the homeplace is my dark side, my grief, but it is also the source of my deepest knowledge. Perhaps it is only through this experience of loss that I can value a sense of place, that I can question how thoughtlessly—even contemptuously—we are taught to cast it aside. (pg. 88)
At this time in my life (when I first read this book), I was at a crossroads. I was ready to divorce myself from the place and land and way of life that I’d loved, mostly because I did not believe that I could be the person I wanted to be if I held on to it too tightly. “Riding the White Horse Home” allowed me to both hold on and let go. It was more than that, though. It is so beautifully written, so rich in emotion. I loved everything about this book. Secretly, I wanted to be a writer. Up to this point I’d only read books by people so different than me: people with money, from cities, who’d traveled the world. Here was a book, printed, published, and in my hands by someone I could relate to: someone who wrote of the smell of her mother’s bread baking and of the steam that rises from afterbirth when a new calf is born. It gave me hope and a sense that maybe I, too, could write something that someone else would want to read. It was a great, great gift. But aside from that, it’s a beautiful book. A must read.
At least I think so.